By Tony Grossi
See the Flash: Big, tall and smooth. Those are the first impressions of Josh Gordon. How many Browns receivers of recent vintage can you even say that about?
Shortly after Gordon took the field in front of a training camp audience for the first time, he made a routine catch in loosen-up drills with the quarterbacks. The crowd of about 2,937 – fairly impressive considering morning thunderstorms – clapped and shouted approval.
Fans here are so starved for a true playmaker on offense, Gordon, a rookie who hasn’t played in a game since his 2010 sophomore season at Baylor, can win them over just by walking on the field – for he truly looks the part.
“It was totally different,” Gordon said of practicing in front of fans. “It felt welcoming, like a place I definitely want to call home.”
On the fast track: Gordon later had some nice one-on-one battles with Joe Haden, the Browns’ best cornerback. On one, Gordon got behind Haden but couldn’t come down with a long ball over his shoulder in the end zone. The ball deflected off his outstretched hands.
Gordon is under orders not to go full speed as he recovers from a quadriceps muscle pull suffered in his workout for NFL scouts on July 10. So that might account for coming up short on that throw.
Other times, Haden gave Gordon a personal session on bump-and-run coverage, something the 6-3, 225-pound Gordon seldom saw in the Big 12 Conference at Baylor.
“Joe came back and said, ‘Wow, this is a big sucker,’” related coach Pat Shurmur. “On one of the routes, (Gordon) did a good job of getting separation. That’s what you need to see. I know he can catch the football. I know he can really run when he gets going. Now in this camp – because previous to training camp bump-and-run was not allowed – so this is where you start to see receivers getting challenged.”
The schooling of Gordon is on the fast track. The Browns realize he possesses skills and natural ability that put him in the elite class. Nobody else on the receiver roster has the same.
“I’ve been down this road before,” said receivers coach Mike Wilson. “I coached Tim Brown with the Raiders. I had Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in Arizona three years. I played with Jerry Rice. Talent is talent. He has unlimited potential. It will come out in due time. He’s not going to master it in one day.
“Right now he’s just getting over a slight (quad) and we’re being cautious with him. Once his body’s well, then we’ll really hone in on it. Big body, nice hands, very smooth athlete, catches the ball well. Watching his cut-up tape from college, he’s a playmaker. He has the ability to stretch the field vertically. He uses his hands to catch. This was really a bonus for us.”
When Gordon transferred to Utah in 2011, he couldn’t play because of NCAA rules, but he could practice and attend meetings. The Utes’ coordinator that season was Norm Chow, who ran a version of the West Coast offense. That helped de-program Gordon from his two years at Baylor, where quarterback Robert Griffin III threw so often on the run on rollouts, sprints and bootlegs.
Wilson and senior offensive assistant coach Nolan Cromwell frequently pull aside Gordon after a rep to drive home a coaching point about a route or adjustment.
Haden said, “He’s really good. He’s strong. He has no problem getting off the line on press coverage. I think the only thing is making all of his routes look the same. Making his comebacks look like his fades or his digs, or come out of his breaks fast. He's definitely looking good for only his second day out here.”
Wise old corner Sheldon Brown said, “I think he’s a talented player. Like I told him earlier, the biggest thing about it is most guys here are talented. It’s just being able to mentally prepare for the NFL, the gameplan. Obviously, you have the ability. It’s just having the mental ability to process everything.”
Gordon’s outstanding physical skills obscure the fact he is also a bright player with the capacity to accept coaching and learn fast. “That’s an added bonus to his game,” Shurmur said.
Not shy: The Browns’ recent problems at wide receiver are well-chronicled. They had nine touchdown catches by wideouts in 16 games last year, had only one receiver account for more than 700 yards receiving and led the NFL in dropped balls.
If Gordon had not arrived via the supplemental draft, the position might still be perceived as a dark cloud over an offense improved – on paper -- at quarterback, running back and right tackle. Now, he can complete the puzzle.
“Me as a rookie, I definitely have a mindset coming in, you must learn how to follow before you can lead,” Gordon said. “Never having played at this level, I definitely want to watch and learn and listen. But eventually I do plan to become a leader on this team and on offense by making plays on the field.”
Oh, yeah. He has that confidence gene that all the playmaking receivers have, too.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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